T Lo Interviews Ping Wu, Dolls!
Darlings, from the minute we first encountered Ping in her audition video for Project Runway, we knew she was going to become a much talked-about member of the S7 cast. Since everything from her personal style to her designs to her auf’ing have been discussed far more than any other contestant in a while, we figured we’d whip out our inner Barbara Walters and give it a go.
So you left China when you were 17?
Yes, I came to the United States from Chengdu, China, alone as a teenager. I went to the University of Pittsburgh, I lived there for 3 years studying English, while I was there, I was double-majoring in Biology and Psychology. I also went to SUNY Buffalo to study Physical Therapy.
When did you discover your passion for fashion?
I truly believe that everyone has a gift. I always loved craft works ever since I was a little girl. I was very good with my fingers [laughs]. I’ve always liked to create things, but I didn’t realize that it really was a sign that I could be a good designer. Of course, I went to all the best schools that I could possibly go to. I was very comfortable being a physical therapist, but I had a lot of spare time and I was alone, I’m still alone [laughs] so I worked from 9 to 5 and then “what do I do?” from 6 until the next morning? I took some arts classes, including ceramic, I also picked up my childhood love, hand knitting, and I also made greeting cards.
My friend convinced me to go to farmers’ market with her to sell my cards. I realized that my customers were all professors in the arts field and they bought as many as I could produce. So I was thinking, “Well, if I can make two-dimensional paper greeting cards, I bet I can make clothes.” It’s a different medium but you just turn that into a three-dimensional column and it is clothes. I hand-made my own clothes because I didn’t understand the pattern book and everybody loved it. I thought that if I could make clothes without any training and people like them I guess I could do a much better job if I studied it professionally.
Where did you study fashion?
I enrolled in the Istituto Marangoni in Milan, Italy. After I completed my studies in Fashion Design, I interned with designer Luisa Beccaria in Milan and later with BLESS in Paris.
And in March 2007 you were invited to participate in the Qi Pai Cup Costume Creation Contest during Beijing’s International Fashion Week.
After I finished my internship in Paris, purely by luck, I was invited to this amazing international fashion week with these seven famous Chinese designers but nobody knew me [laughs]. My clothes were so different, the judges just loved them. The reason why I wanted to participate was that the winner of each category would win a chance to show their collection in this trade show called Premiere Classe in Paris. The salon director loved my collection so she told me that even though I didn’t win she would invite me to the show in Paris and she did.
They didn’t know that I was just a freshly graduated student. I had no business established but I did not miss that chance. I took some business classes during the evening for several months. I gathered all the business knowledge I needed or at least to make myself more confident to set up a business, I created the entire collection and went to Paris in September 2007 for the show.
Is that true that the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art bought the entire collection?
That’s true. They were my first customers. I still thank them until this day. They were the ones who discovered me. What happened was that one day I went to their store wearing my own clothes just to check on the museum, so the buyer for accessories immediately saw me and asked me about my outfit and I told her I had made it. She was intrigued and asked if I made anything else. I told her that I made accessories. She made an appointment with me the next day and she bought my entire collection.
We love that hat shown in the casting video. Is knitting your main thing?
Thank you. Actually, my interests are much broader than just knitting. I chose knitting for my current line because it’s the easiest way to manufacture your own textiles. It’s the easiest way to produce the shape you want, to create the patterns quickly; all you need is two needles and you can go anywhere with it. I’m also interested in bamboo, weaving techniques with, also high-tech materials.
You also make jewelry.
Yes, I also do jewelry. I have very high standards for the kind of look I want to achieve and sometimes to create the looks I want I really need equipment and materials and for now I’m not ready to produce really high-quality pieces.
Why did you decide to be on the show?
My colleagues have been bugging me to get on the show for a couple of years, ever since I returned to America from Europe. I never felt connected to Project Runway because I was doing mainly accessories. I only make clothes in the spare time that I have for myself. I’m always busy doing a lot of things and during the application period I had some free time and looking for thing to fill up my schedule so I decided to try. Worst case scenario, they don’t choose me.
Did you enjoy the experience?
Yes, for sure. Thousands of people applied and only sixteen of us were selected; the entire America meeting little Ping. It was quite an honor. I think I’m the first native Chinese designer being selected.
You have an impressive resume obviously, and you’re quite talented, and yet you were eliminated so soon. What do you think went wrong?
Well, a few people told me that my design style doesn’t fit in what the majority of the American audience thinks. It’s not the kind of style that people are used to seeing. I also think that in the last challenge wasn’t a very successful team work. I think that’s the main reason why I was eliminated. A lot of things didn’t air, but I had a lot of problems during that challenge.
Do you think if it hadn’t been a team challenge you’d still be on the show?
I mean, of course. Life cannot be replayed or repeated, but I think it if had been my own work, genuine work, genuine design…even if I had been sent home anyway, I wouldn’t feel the same. I took 100% of the consequences, it was my responsibility, but the work wasn’t 100% mine. I had much more interesting designs before that I made. It was just complicated to make the team work towards the vision that I wanted. I had to compromise for the team to move on.
How was it working with Jesse?
It was very difficult to work with Jesse. When I chose him, I purely chose him for his skills. Before that challenge, he appeared to be a very quiet, nice guy. I thought he was humble [Laughs]. Oh my god, I thought we were a perfect team and that my vision was my strength. I thought we could both contribute with different sets of skills and make this brilliant work. He could not understand my vision, how to realize my design. He forced me to listen to him, he forced to go into directions he wanted. I don’t hate him by any means, I don’t know him personally, but I think as a team you have to respect…I’m taking the majority of the responsibility, you’re my team member, you were chosen by me, you should follow me. He was against me every step. It was very sad, very sad.
It didn’t help that the model complained about you.
See, they cut my reply during the final airing, which also made me quite upset. When she said that I was very calm, I didn’t blame her or anything. I said to the judges that we worked as a team. We have two designers, two models. I was trying out my garment on the first model. It is not unreasonable to expect Jesse to work on his design with his model who worked with him in the previous two challenges. He knows her body the best. Why did I have to do everything by myself? I was busy with one model, why couldn’t he take care of the other one?
Do you think you went home because of Jesse?
I could’ve told the judges what was truly going on behind the curtains, but I didn’t. There’s a reason why the final looks don’t even match and it’s not my fault. It’s because I’m Chinese, I never sell my team mates. I never disclose problems with my team mates. If I tell the judges two, three things that happened, does that make me a better person? I don’t think so.
Did he spend a lot of time teaching you how to sew?
Well, that’s another thing that they cut off of my response. Immediately after he said that I said, “Why don’t you tell the judges what you have taught me?” and he was silent. His interpretation of my style is just putting fabrics on. That’s absolutely not what my style really is, even though it does look drape-y as if there were no skills involved.
We have to say that a lot of people feel that your designs are nothing but draped fabrics on the body. What do you have to say in your defense?
I think that’s a very superficial judgment. It’s the same level as Jesse’s interpretation of my design style. I think there are multiple solutions to a problem, any given problem. The simplest solution is the most difficult to find. It’s the cleverest way to solve the problem. So, I think a real good design, a smart design is the one that people go “Wow, why didn’t I think of that?” I designed that first look without a single cut because I didn’t have enough fabric. It’s problem solving. You want to make complicated pieces look effortless. Same thing with my accessories, they are very easy to make. If I told you the trick you’d think that it was so easy. It’s still functional and gorgeous. That’s a skill. There’s intelligence involved. If you think from a business point of view, if you spend less time introducing your product, you save a lot of money and you can produce much more. It’s much more profitable.
When you were crying on the runway you said that Anthony turned to you and said “Don’t ever change, Ping.”
Yes, he did. I knew I was going to be eliminated if I didn’t betray or disclose the internal problems with Jesse. I was prepared and calm. I was so glad that he said that, I love Anthony. I love Seth Aaron. He looked very scary in the beginning but he’s a very sweet guy. After he gave me a hug he whispered that to me. That made me feel very special and I started to cry.
So, what’s next for Ping?
I think I walked a long way before the show. I’m an extremely hard worker, so that’s not going to change because of the show. I will continue my career, my passion for creating designs. Huge commercial success is not my priority, to be honest with you. There are many ways to make money. I live a good life just being a physical therapist. The reason why I pursue fashion design it’s because I really feel that it fits my soul, I can bring something different, unique to this world. I will definitely continue this and I will not base my success on a show. I think you have to earn every bit of your success.
You’re very talented, you have a very unique style and we wish you all the best.
Thank you, guys.